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The Gulf region was front and center this week at the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) in Abu Dhabi, where industry watchers once again predicted an acceleration of PV development in the region despite Saudi Arabia’s postponement of its ambitious 16 GW PV goal from 2032 to 2040, due in large part to falling oil prices.

In the United States, the solar boom featured prominently in President Barack Obama’s sixth State of the Union address to the nation, while in Germany, Hanwha Q Cells called it quits, deciding to pick up and move its cell and module production to distant, and more cost-effective, shores. At the same time, the government of China announced new PV manufacturing guidelines aimed at improving quality and spurring consolidation.

WFES 2015

While Abu Dhabi’s WFES event was showcasing the promising potential of renewables in the MENA region, news of Saudi Arabia pushing back its ambitious target of achieving 16 GW of PV from 2032 to 2040 provided a reality check for the industry and a reminder of the impact falling oil prices can have in the region, and elsewhere.

Nevertheless, Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), said the low price of renewables could still have an impact of its own in Middle East.

"In this region specifically I think the renewable energy sector is accelerating," Liebriech told pv magazine. "It is almost as if it has been the missing region for some time now and that it’s produced more press releases than clean kilowatt hours. There have been a variety of reasons for that."

Falling oil price continue to have an impact and were highlighted by the World Energy Council this week as a prime factor behind the volatility in global energy prices – the biggest uncertainty facing policymakers today.

Nevertheless, the PV industry was taken aback by Saudi developer ACWA's recent winning bid to construct a 200 MW solar project in Dubai at the unbeatable price of nearly $0.06 per kilowatt hour, which may in fact point to the future cost of solar panels.

Obama’s sunny State of the Union

Describing climate change as the greatest threat to future generations, Obama said in his State of the Union address, "That's why, over the past six years, we've done more than ever to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it.” Driving the point home, the president stressed, "Every three weeks, we bring on line as much solar power as we did in all of 2008."

While solar in the United States continues to enjoy unprecedented growth, much of the domestic solar industry blasted the U.S. International Trade Commission’s vote upholding tariffs on PV imports from China and Taiwan in what was widely seen as yet another major victory for SolarWorld.

"It's particularly troubling that U.S. trade policy is working to increase the cost of solar products through tariffs when we know that more affordable solar energy creates more American solar jobs,” said Jigar Shah, president of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy.

For its part, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology released new regulations aimed at boosting equity in manufacturing expansions and encouraging consolidation amongst manufacturers in the country's PV, battery and polysilicon industries.

Q Cells bids auf Wiedersehen to Germany

Germany, meanwhile, saw its once leading position in the global PV market deteriorate further as Hanwha Q Cells announced it was shutting down its production operations in the country and moving them overseas in an effort to cut costs. The group is moving its cell production business to its main production site in Malaysia but has yet to announce where it will relocate the module production line.

IHS analyst Stefan de Haan described the move as “understandable,” noting that the wage factor in Germany was “having a much bigger impact on the total cost of solar modules.”

De Haan noted that installed capacity growth in Germany and Europe would remain at a lower level than the recent boom years and pointed out, “Hanwha Q Cells’ production operation in Germany is relatively small, so no economies of scale can take effect. The company is, however, in direct competition with the major Chinese manufacturers.”

Betting on the grid transition

Meanwhile, the dynamic "grid-edge" sector dazzled investors last year, illustrating the intensifying transition from a centralized to a distributed electricity system.

Companies directly involved in the technological transformation raised $1.3 billion from private equity firms and venture capitalists in 2014, surpassing investment levels in the previous two years but still down from the $1.4 billion that flowed in 2011, according to GTM Research.

At the same time, global PV installation growth was modest last year, according to the PV Market Alliance. While figures from the fourth quarter of 2014 have yet to be published, the group estimates the global PV market, driven by distributed generation, reached between 40 GW and 42 GW in 2014, up from 37 GW the previous year. China led globally with 10.5 GW to 12 GW, up from 9.5 GW in 2013.

SunEdison continued to make headlines after securing £70 million ($105 million) from European banks Santander and Bayerische Landesbank to build five large-scale solar farms in the United Kingdom that will generate 85.2 MW of electricity. Terraform Power, SunEdison's yieldco subsidiary, is set to acquire the projects later this year.

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